Federer also may have surrendered a psychological edge in experimenting with the larger racket at such a crucial time in the season.
At least that’s how Patrick McEnroe believes such a move would have played to him, decades ago, as a middle-of-the-pack contender who never reached the level of Federer nor John McEnroe.
“I think in the mentality of that great player, you’re sort of admitting, I’m not going to say ‘failure’ but that you need to do something differently. That’s really hard for a tennis player to do, because so much of what goes on in a tennis match is that self belief and confidence: Walking out on the court when your opponent feels that you feel like you’re unbeatable or you know how good you are.
“This is where I can relate. As a guy ranked 30 or 40 in the world, I would think, ‘Wow, Roger went to a different racket! Maybe I have a chance now! Maybe he doesn’t believe in what he’s doing.’ ”
But there’s no sign Federer’s bedrock belief in his game has been shaken or that he doesn’t have the stomach for battling back, even if he falls further behind.
Few athletes reach the top perch of their sport and must confront the peculiar pain of slipping from it. There is no single correct response.
American Andy Roddick decided well before he tumbled from the top 10 that he would retire once his ranking dipped beyond a certain point. And he followed through, stepping away at age 30 following last year’s U.S. Open, having fallen from the top 20.
Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors chose to play on. And each reclaimed a moment of brilliance under the bright lights of the U.S. Open, with Agassi reaching the final at 35 and Connors storming into the semifinals at 39.
“Every match gives me more information to tell me if I’m on the right path or not,” Federer said earlier this month, insisting that he cared far more about raising his game than his ranking. “I’m a strong believer that I am on the right path right now. I just need to make sure that mentally I stay cool about it.”
Record Grand Slam men’s
Months since last Grand Slam singles title.
U.S. Open titles
(last came in 2008).
Grand Slam singles title in the past 43 months (2012 Wimbledon).